The Blog

How To Tame Your Backstage Nerves and Find Your Inner Bellydancing Superhero

3 more dancers and you’re on. Your stomach is churning and sweat is running down the inside of your arms before you have even started dancing.

Not feeling like thisTamin?

WonderWoman

Backstage nerves are no fun and I’m pretty sure every dancer has experienced them at some time. Even if you are an experienced dancer and are used to being calm, cool and collected in front your audience, if you find yourself in a new situation where the stakes are higher or it is a “tougher room” (we all know an audience full of bellydancers is the toughest) you may still develop a case of newbie-nerves all over again.

The most straight-forward way to prevent a case of the backstage jitters is to be prepared. If you know that you are well-rehearsed and come to the gig rested and fueled in a healthful way (skip the Monster drinks) you have set yourself up for success. But that’s not always enough.

Your body and your mind are both in on the scheme, linked by your hormonal chemistry. There has been some very interesting research done recently that has turned up some really useful information for dancers waiting for their turn backstage.

You can read the whole study here, but this is the short and practical version…

First, let’s consider the connection between our brain and our chemistry. The hormone testosterone has the effect of boosting confidence. Levels of the hormone cortisol rise with stress and anxiety. Now the relationship between our body and our mind – we read confidence in body language when people stand up straight and look “open”. When we see someone slumping or crossing their arms protectively, we read shyness, fear, hesitation and the like.

In the study by Amy Cuddy at Harvard University, they found that assuming a powerful, open posture for 2 minutes positively and significantly impacts the body’s chemistry for more confidence and less anxiety. Wow. Quick, free and all natural too!

So what does this mean for you backstage?

Try standing in the “superwoman stance” as you wait, feet wide, hands on your hips and chest and head up. Maybe add some deep breathing to boost the calming effect – it certainly can’t hurt.

Now channel your bellydancing superhero self and go raq their world!

What techniques do you use to mentally prepare before you take the stage? Tell us in the comments below…

January 22, 2015 3 Comments

What Beginners Should Practice & Study Outside of Belly Dance Class

This is the latest installment in the occasional series, “Raks Me A Question” where I answer bellydancers’ questions about learning, teaching, performing or doing business in Bellydance Land. If you’ve got a dilemma, an obstacle you haven’t found your way around or a sticky situation and you’d like some advice – just send it in ! You may find your answer in the next installment of “Raks Me A Question”!

 

You’re new to belly dance and totally hooked! The jingly coins, the pretty silk … the fun haflas! One hour of class just isn’t enough and you want to learn it ALL. What’s a baby belly dancer to do? I’ve actually had several enthusiastic new students who are DBQ subscribers write in with variations of this same topic. Today I’ll  share some ideas and ways to structure your dance education outside of class  – without getting overwhelmed.

Get ready to take some notes, students!

 

 How have you organized your out-of-class practice at any level? Share your ideas in the comments below….

November 13, 2014 0 Comments
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6 Things To Know About Stretching & Belly Dance

Flexibility is essential in belly dance. It gives us the range of motion to complete our movements with ease and grace. The field of exercise science has done quite a few flip-flops over the years in its recommendations on safe and effective stretching.  As new research emerges, these change and improve . If your main experience with flexibility exercises came from your high school P.E. class, or someone who isn’t up to date on the most current knowledge,  it may be time to re-think when and how you stretch. Continue Reading →

January 19, 2013 5 Comments

The Science Behind Learning Shimmies

Learning how to shimmy is a huge challenge for many new belly dance students. Even if they come to Middle Eastern dance with several years of other dance training, most likely none of it prepared them for that small, repetitive movement that is so integral to belly dance styles.  When they sigh “HOW do you do that so fast?”, we usually tell them “Practice, LOTS of practice!”. It’s true, practice makes perfect – or at least a lot better – but what exactly is happening in our bodies in that early shimmy learning stage?

The Engine That Stalls

Remember back to your early days, instructors! New students, yes, we’ve all been where you are. You get your shimmy going and a few seconds later your knees mysteriously stop by no will of your conscious brain, You pause, then you start it back up again like an old car that stalled at a stop light. What is happening and how do you “fix” it?

Getting Under The Hood

There are a few components to learning a new movement pattern. First, you brain needs to understand what you mean to do. Second, your brain needs to get your body to cooperate – at first in a  slow and rudimentary way. In class, I ask my students if “their heads have it” meaning, they understand the movement. After all, your body doesn’t stand much of a chance if your brain doesn’t get it first. From that understanding, the body will learn it with enough perseverance. Princess Farhana cracked me up in a workshop once expressing the same idea. She said “your brain is writing checks your hips can’t cash” –  so true!

Now that your brain understands and your body can carry out the motion at a moderate speed for a short amount of time, how do we get that to grow into a sustained, smooth shimmy? This is where the body works the behind the scenes magic of neural adaptation.

Bring In The Wiring Crew

Whether it’s a shimmy or strength training, much of the early progress we see with practice is due to neural adaptation rather than actual changes in the strength or size of our muscles.  For an Egyptian knee shimmy, the quadriceps and hamstrings are the primary muscle groups we are talking about. Each of these large groups in made up of several smaller muscles and each of these has bundles of muscle fibers that work together. Each of these bundles is controlled by one nerve and that work group of muscle fibers and it’s nerve is called a motor unit. Check out the picture at the top of this post for an illustration of a motor unit.

When the neural adaptation process starts, the brain and motor units improve the speed and efficiency of their communication. We experience this as our body “cooperating” with us. On a larger scale, the motor units learn to work together in a more synchronized way. Just like a rowing crew that has all its members in perfect timing to achieve maximum speed, your muscles work best when all the motor units needed contract in unison. As the movement pattern become more familiar to our brain, our bodies also begin to recruit more motor units to do the same movement which really adds more shimmy-power.  We experience this golden moment as the “smooth, sustained shimmy”.

So is your instructor conning you when she says “Practice, LOTS of practice!”? No, absolutely not. Neural adaptation is the outcome of all that practice. It doesn’t happen from thinking about your shimmy, or wishing your shimmy would get better. The more often you practice the more positively your neural network will adapt to comply with your dreams of amazing shimmies for hours on end.

“Often” is the important key word here. Shorter daily shimmy practice will get the beginner better neural adaptation results that wrestling with it for an hour once a week. All of these things are also true for experienced dancers who are working to master a new and different shimmy than the one they’ve been doing for years.

So whether it’s your first shimmy or learning shimmy style #10, give yourself 5 minutes every day to let your body work that neural adaptation magic! Remember… “Practice, LOTS of practice!”

April 24, 2012 18 Comments

13 Years ago…

13 years ago, I stood in my living room trying to shimmy. I don’t remember it being easy. My friend was trying to get me to make an elusive vibration in my hips – she made it look (and sound) so easy. She came over to show me moves and I gave her herbs and vegetables from my garden. This went on for a few months.

Eventually, I got a few things down. I could do a hip circle and made a decent attempt at a camel and snake arms.  She told me I should go and take real classes with a woman she knew so I made the phone call. I asked her if I could observe a class – that felt safe – and she said yes, so on Wednesday night off I went to watch my first real bellydance class.

After introducing myself, I sat down in the back corner of the room and watched the women of all ages, shapes and sizes distribute themselves through the room. They spread the arms wide claiming a bit of personal space and shifted to adjust to their neighbors. Barely had warm up begun and the teacher told me I should get up and join them. “Oh, I’m just going to watch this week.”, I said, but she looked at me like I was silly and told me I might as well join them.  I figured I came to check it out so before I put my money on the table I probably should really try her class– and I got up – in jeans and sandals.
Warm up was easy – I’d been to a zillion dance classes in my life. Then she went on all manner of shapes with hips and ribs and arms and I was feeling quite lost till she started hip circles – yessss – this, I know!

I think it’s funny now that I can remember exactly what she wore, what the room looked like and so much more, but I don’t remember much else about that first class. Not even how I felt about it when I left. But I do know that I went back for more, and more, and more…

February 3, 2010 2 Comments
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